Friday, May 25, 2012

My Inequality Course

An article by Charlotte Allen and George Leef, published online at both Minding the Campus and the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, recently singled out a course I teach, entitled "Wealth, Power, & Inequality," as the only one they could find that provides a balanced approach to teaching about social inequality.  I was pleased by this recognition because my main goal in designing the syllabus and selecting the readings for this course (which was on the books under this title before I began teaching it) was precisely to avoid preaching any particular doctrine to the students. I wanted to present inequality as a subject of debate and a topic that could legitimately be approached from differing perspectives, and not to give them my views or the prevailing views of academia as the "correct" way to think about this controversial issue. I try to give them readings that present arguments that are redistributionist and anti-redistributionist, supply-side and demand-side, statist and libertarian, traditionalist.

Many professors teach from a definite point of view. I think that is legitimate in a marketplace of ideas, but it is also problematic in the contemporary university because too often the market is an intellectual monopoly, in which the lack of competition produces shoddy goods. My own approach is to try to delineate the different points of view and to encourage students to reason for themselves. I will, if asked, tell them what I think and give them my reasons, but if they agree with me it should be because the reasons make sense, not because I'm giving them no alternative. 

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